212 VERDICT ON: INDIA
That brings us to the third rrason—our own shortcomings, the
failure of Delhi. *
It can hardly bt questioned tlzat the future historian will con-
sider this third reason of minor importance, compared with the
others. We have already seen that no attempt was made by the
Provincial Government to enlist Delhi's aid until they had got
themselves into such a mess that there was no other way out. And
by now we should know ei^ough about Indian nationalism to
realize that there would have been an outburst of protest if Delhi
had overriden the Provincial Government by making any gesture
that could have been interpreted as "premature.*
That does not absolve us from all responsibility. But iu admit-
ting responsibility we are at least entitled to a fair defence. For
example, one of the accusations most frequently levelled at us is
that there were no adequate statistics to guide the authorities in
their endeavour to distribute food throughout the province. That
is cpiite true ; the available statistics were hazy and out of date.
The methods of obtaining them were absurdly primitive. What
usually happened was ihat the District Officer would call for his
Choukicar (a sort of village caretaker) and say, 'What sort of yield '
shall we have from the line by the river to the village boundary ?'
And the Choukicfcr \tould put his hand over his eyes, and after
gasing about him for a few minutes would report that there would
be 200 bighas1 of a twelve-anna crop and 100 bighas of a fourteen-
anna crop. That was all that happened, and if the margin of error
was less than 25 per cent he was lucky. Obviously, in, territories
where even at the best of times there was a 5 per cent deficit for
the whole population, such methods were courting disaster,
sooner or later.
But if we admit facts like these let us at least set them against
their proper background. What does that background show us ?
It shows us a population of sixty million in the province of Bengal
alone, largely illiterate, increasing at a rate which would tax the
resources of a land flowing with milk and honey. A population,
moreover, so violently torn by religious discord that the mere
absence of civil war is a remarkable tribute to our administration.
And in charge of this vast and turbulent people, lacking even the
1 A bigha is about a third of an acre.